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Response to Contributors

  • Catherine H. Zuckert

Extract

The demonstrated willingness of ten knowledgeable scholars to read and comment on parts of my work is, indeed, a great honor. As Mary Keys's introductory remarks show, the contributors are friends. However, although their comments are generally appreciative, they are by no means uncritical. I thus welcome the opportunity to respond to them.

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1 Gadamer, Hans-Georg and Strauss, Leo, “Correspondence concerning Wahrheit und Methode,” Independent Journal of Philosophy, no. 2 (1978): 56.

2 Church is correct to suggest that at the time I wrote Postmodern Platos I thought that Strauss was responding more to Nietzsche than to Heidegger. In a letter to Karl Löwith on June 23, 1935, Strauss wrote: “Nietzsche so bewitched me between my 22nd and 30th years, that I literally believed everything that I understood of him,” but that he had subsequently concluded that Nietzsche had not succeeded in “repeating antiquity at the peak of modernity,” and “became untrue to his intention … because of his confinement within modern presuppositions” (Independent Journal of Philosophy, nos. 5–6 [1988]: 183–84). And in a lecture he gave in 1956, Strauss stated that “it is certainly not an overstatement to say that no one has spoken so greatly and so nobly of what a philosopher is as Nietzsche” (first published as An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” in The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, ed. Pangle, Thomas L. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989], 40). Further study has convinced me that Strauss thought Heidegger raised an even more fundamental challenge. Although Nietzsche maintained that all the rational structures philosophers claimed to have discovered in the world were, in fact, “magnificent moral structures” of their own creation, he persisted in affirming an underlying cause in the “will to power” and something eternal, if only in the form of an eternal return. Heidegger argued that all human life and thought are historically bounded and thus, according to Strauss, condemned “to oblivion the notion of eternity.” Strauss thought such an “estrangement from man's deepest desire and therewith from the primary issues is the price which modern man had to pay, from the very beginning, for attempting to be absolutely sovereign, to become the master and owner of nature, to conquer chance” (What Is Political Philosophy?,” in What Is Political Philosophy? and Other Studies [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959], 55). The fact that human beings desire contact with the eternal does not mean that they can achieve it. It does mean that we should not give up our deepest desire without trying to satisfy it. What I hope is an improved understanding of Strauss in this respect is reflected in the two books I coauthored with my husband, Zuckert, Michael P., The Truth about Leo Strauss (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), and Leo Strauss and the Problem of Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

3 Strauss, Leo, The City and Man (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), 125–28.

4 In the body of the text of Philosophy and Law, trans. Adler, Eve (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), Strauss suggests that Farabi and Maimonides sought to make classical political philosophy compatible with the religious law of their communities by arguing that the philosopher's search for wisdom would culminate in his becoming a knowledgeable legislator. But in his later work “Farabi's Plato,” Strauss shows that, like Plato, Farabi thinks it is possible for a philosopher to live in an imperfect society. In other words, a philosopher does not necessarily have to become a legislator.

5 Quite the contrary. See Strauss, Leo, On Tyranny, rev. ed., ed. Gourevitch, Victor and Roth, Michael S. (New York: Free Press, 1991 [1953]), 201. Strauss explicitly and frequently recognizes the existence of different modes of philosophizing, but argues that the Socratic is best.

6 Strauss, City and Man, 119–20.

7 Strauss, Leo, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 121–22.

8 Strauss, City and Man, 20.

9 Strauss, Natural Right and History, 121–23.

10 Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy?, 39–40.

11 Strauss, Natural Right and History, 124.

12 Ibid.

13 Strauss puts “common sense” in quotation marks, because he recognizes that opinions differ not only from individual to individual, but even more from society to society, and at different times and places. In all cases, however, he insists that we must, like the classics, begin from these opinions. Otherwise we risk losing our sense of the essential differences among beings, especially the differences between human beings and gods, on the one hand, and human beings and animals, on the other.

14 Ibid., 125.

15 Ibid., 32.

16 Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy?, 40.

17 Strauss, City and Man, 20.

18 Strauss, Natural Right and History, 123–24.

19 Philosophers do not opt for reason rather than revelation as a matter of will, as critics of Strauss such as Stanley Rosen have maintained. They ask what the best way of life for a human being is and reason about it, because this is the most urgent question. See Strauss, Leo, “Progress or Return?,” in An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays by Leo Strauss, ed. Gildin, Hilail (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989), 260.

20 In What Is Political Philosophy?, 27–55, Strauss examines first the classical and then the modern solutions. And in “The Three Waves of Modernity” (in An Introduction, 81–98), he explicitly connects the logical progression of modern political philosophy with the development of three distinctive new kinds of political regimes.

21 “If we want to clarify the political ideas we have inherited, we must actualize their implications, which were explicit in the past, and this can be done only by means of the history of political ideas. This means that the clarification of our political ideas insensibly changes into and becomes indistinguishable from the history of political ideas” (Leo Strauss, “Political Philosophy and History,” in What Is Political Philosophy?, 73).

22 Strauss, On Tyranny, 200.

23 In the Symposium, which O'Connor teaches regularly, Plato's Socrates describes three different kinds of eros in ascending order. In Four Types of Love, C. S. Lewis describes yet another kind to include the overflowing love of God which Christians believe He nevertheless wants them to reciprocate to the extent to which they can.

24 Strauss, On Tyranny, 198–99.

25 Ibid., 198–200.

26 Strauss suggests that philosophers are attracted primarily to those human beings who demonstrate their own potential for becoming philosophers. Because their desire to learn the truth overrides the desires that tend to make human beings fearful, immoderate, and unjust, such human beings have well-ordered souls; and these well-ordered souls reflect the eternal order to a higher degree than those which are chaotic or diseased. But, Strauss acknowledges, “observations of this kind do not prove the assumption … that the well-ordered soul is more akin to the eternal order.” Moreover, “one does not have to make that assumption in order to be a philosopher, as shown by Democritus and other pre-Socratics, to say nothing of the moderns” (ibid., 201).

27 Ibid., 205–6.

28 Strauss, Leo, Persecution and the Art of Writing (New York: Free Press, 1952), 3637.

29 Strauss, On Tyranny, 200, cited above.

30 Zuckert, Catherine H., Postmodern Platos (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 276.

31 The only external information we have about the dates of composition is Aristotle's report in the Politics that the Laws was written after the Republic (but not the date at which either of these dialogues was written) and the ancient rumor that the Laws was left in wax. Because the text of that dialogue could, therefore, still be changed, scholars concluded that it was left unfinished; and all attempts to order the dialogues according to the dates of their composition rest on the conviction that the Laws was last.

32 As Strauss, City and Man, 85–93, points out, Socrates's attempt to discover what justice is by looking at it “writ large” in a city and then asking about the origin of a city in the Republic is a notable exception. But, Strauss suggests, Socrates proceeds there as he does because he is responding to Glaucon's definition of justice based on its origin.

33 MacIntyre, Alasdair, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning and Narrative (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), remedies this defect by explaining that one function of his work as a professional philosopher is to dispute theories that make the acquisition of practical reason difficult for contemporary readers.

34 Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy?, 43, 45; Strauss, Leo, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 173.

35 Zuckert, Catherine, Machiavelli's Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 118n20.

36 Machiavelli, Niccolò, The Prince, trans. Mansfield, Harvey C., 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 71.

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